After a devastating storm, recovery can take weeks before some neighborhoods have habitable homes with running water and electricity. As homeowners return home to survey the damage, many are wondering what can be salvaged from their electrical systems.

Unfortunately, most electrical components that were underwater for even a brief time will need to be replaced. This includes wiring, circuit panels, fuse boxes and even outlets and switches. 

Rusty Receptacles

You should always take care to keep electrical outlets and switches dry. Even when cleaning them, it’s important to spray cleaning solution onto a cloth first instead of directly onto the receptacle, because the smallest amount of moisture can lead to corrosion, component failure and even a fire risk.

Corrosion spreads slowly, which means that a water-damaged but otherwise dry outlet may continue to work for weeks or months. But as the rust spreads, the contact points in both outlets and switches will degrade, resulting in flickering power.

First Things First

Replacing an outlet or a light switch may be in your DIY comfort zone, but after a flood, they’re a small part of a much larger project. Before even entering a flooded home, it’s important to have a licensed electrician, utility worker or qualified emergency responder check to make sure the home is safe from electrocution risks. This may involve removing the electric meter or circuit panel.

Most residential flood recoveries involve replacing drywall, sheet rock, insulation and flooring, not to mention the electrical infrastructure. Coordinating these services is key -- it’s a lot easier to rewire a home while the walls are still open -- and installing new outlets and switches is a late-stage repair.

So until a licensed electrician has made the home safe, conducted a thorough inspection and established a schedule for electrical repairs, the most important thing is to consider all outlets and switches to be out of order.

Better Than New

There are at least a few pieces of good news when it comes to replacing outlets and switches. For starters, most models are cheap and easy to install.  Gutting and rebuilding a home also presents the opportunity to add additional outlets or install outlets in new locations -- specifically, higher on the wall. In coastal or flood-prone areas, it’s a smart move to install outlets and wiring at least one foot higher than the 100-year flood level. That way, if you experience another flood, you may be able to avoid extensive electrical repairs.

Replacing outlets and switches also allows you to upgrade to models with special features. The most sophisticated outlets and switches use smart technology so that you can control them from anywhere with a tablet or smartphone. For homeowners with lots of USB-powered gadgets, there are outlets with both electrical plugs and USB ports. Dimmers, night lights and built-in child safety features are just a few of the additional options you have when picking out your new receptacles. If you’re rebuilding, you may as well build it better than before!

But post-flood electrical repair all starts with a call to a qualified, licensed electrician who can professionally assess the damage and make a plan for recovery. If your home was affected by a flood, put safety first and hire an electrician to help you take the first steps.